SCO OpenServer

OpenServer may be free, but it's not “open”.
  • Manufacturer: The Santa Cruz Operation

  • Phone: 1-800-SCO-UNIX

  • URL:

  • Price: $19.00 US (media)

  • Reviewer: Ken Collins

Compulsive operating system collectors can now add another partition to their hard disk and another OS to their stockpile. The Santa Cruz Operation (SCO, has a new strategy for attracting users to its OpenServer Desktop System. SCO is giving it away for free, or at least nearly for free.

Though the company could claim 40% of the Unix market share a couple of years ago, it's now facing serious pressure from Windows NT and of course, Linux. Because the OS is priced similarly to NT, it has traditionally been out of the reach of students, educators and the idle curious. While there are a vast number of commercial applications running on OpenServer (it's often employed as a base for retail database systems, thus its market share), the company obviously wants to interest a new generation of developers and administrators.

To further its aims, SCO has made its single-user license free. The catch is that you still have to purchase the media. The OpenServer package, which includes a CD-ROM, a boot disk, a disk of drivers and a small pamphlet costs $19.00 US. If you're used to downloading your distributions at no cost, that's not an option, but SCO has also been handing out their OS gratis at trade shows. You won't be able to download the source anywhere. OpenServer may be free, but it's not “open”. Additionally, the single-user license is intended for educational use only. If you want to run OpenServer as part of your business, you're supposed to purchase a license.

Getting started

While you're at the SCO site signing up for your license (, you might also want to take a look at the on-line documentation for the installation procedure ( and the hardware compatibility handbook ( Unfortunately, the pamphlet included with the installation disks only includes the following instructions for first-time users: “Boot from the supplied boot floppy and follow onscreen instructions.”

While not overly difficult, the installation is far from intuitive. In fact, the first screen will throw all but the most adventurous installers. It asks for your installation media and offers a number of options, but gives no indication that you can install from an IDE CD-ROM. If you use the SCSI CD-ROM setting, follow the on-line documentation directions for the other settings and if the drivers are on the disk, it should recognize your drive. The rest of the process is familiar to Linux users. You can select portions of the software to install (including a lot of support for Novell networking), and you can use fdisk to partition your drive.

While you're going through this process, OpenServer is merrily overwriting your master boot record and wiping it free of LILO. After some serious wrangling, I gave up on getting the OS to cooperate with Linux. With LILO installed in my Linux partition and OpenServer in its own half of the drive, I couldn't find a boot loader that would get SCO to start up, nor could I coax OpenServer into recognizing my Linux partition from its boot prompt. For the time being, I let OpenServer have its way with my system, fdisking back and forth when I needed one or the other, but serious dual users will have to come to terms with this problem. It may be a job for V Communications' System Commander.

Inside the OS

Once inside the OpenServer environment, you're given the opportunity to log on as root or proceed to an SCO-centric xdm login prompt. If you're wary of X, the system offers as many virtual consoles as you have function keys. However, without bash, tcsh or whatever shell you favor, the console is pretty tedious. OpenServer comes with the Korn shell, the C shell and its own scosh. This means if you're a filename completion junkie or you're fond of browsing your command history with the arrow keys, one of the first things you'll want to do is port the appropriate shell to your system.

The scosh is a world unto itself and deserves some mention. The name seems to suggest that it's a shell, but it's closer to an MVS era menu system. After invoking scosh, it takes over your console or xterm and pops up a calendar, a series of menus and a listing of the current directory. The xterm becomes mouse sensitive, and you can use it or the cursor keys to select from the various options. It presents a fairly complex interface; it provides a front end to navigate the file system, check e-mail, edit files, set permissions, print, create archives and move files around. Even so, SCO's addition to the world's shell archives isn't much of a shell. It does everything it can to keep you away from Unix, and devotees of the elegance and ease of the command line may find scosh an unpleasant and unnecessary feature.